BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A proposal requiring Idaho schools to develop rules for when students must be pulled from sporting events following a possible concussion overwhelmingly passed the state House on Monday despite criticism the legislation leaves too much decision-making to coaches.
The measure is seen to be aimed at reducing the risk of head injuries in sports such as high school football and had support from the National Football League, which has focused lately on drawing awareness to head injuries that can occur when players violently collide.
Supporters also say the bill would reduce risk in other sports, such as girls' high school soccer, which has the second highest rate of concussions after football.
The bill, which passed 59-7, calls for schools to develop rules for when athletes should be pulled from games after a head injury and when they can return based on guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In addition, coaches will be required to take classes on concussion safety. Also, parents and players will receive the new guidelines at the start of each season.
Idaho schools that follow these practices would receive protections from lawsuits. Youth sports organizations could voluntarily secure such protections, too.
The measure now heads to the Senate for consideration
Since 2010, Idaho has had rules in place that encourage schools to develop concussion education programs, but this legislation goes beyond those guidelines and requires more immediate action on the part of school administrators.
More than 30 states have passed similar legislation since Washington state adopted what some call the nation's first comprehensive concussion safety legislation in 2009.
Rep. Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello, said her grandson suffered a concussion during the 2011 football season while playing on the freshman team.
Though he was kept out of play for four weeks according to his school's guidelines, Smith said a statewide law would boost protections for athletes, especially those at schools in smaller, rural communities.
"Sometimes, you see the crushing blow, you don't see the subtle hints of the concussion," Smith said. "I was very grateful to have that health care professional treating him and making sure he was ready and didn't go back early."
One of the measure's opponents, Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, believes it's wrong to leave tough decisions to coaches, because they might be too caught up in the competition and unwilling to bench a star following a potentially dangerous hit.
He would have preferred giving referees more say in such decisions.
"My main concern is, who makes the decision to remove that kid," Crane said. "I think it should be the referee, or the referee in consultation with the coach."
The NFL enlisted Matt Kaiserman, a former Boise State University running back whose career was ended by a concussion, to promote the measure in the Legislature.
The NFL in recent years has become the target of lawsuits by former professional players who say the league didn't do enough to protect them, but its intervention in Idaho has become a sticking point for some lawmakers.
Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder, said the league was muscling its way into state politics to distract from news earlier this month that teams including the New Orleans Saints offered bounty pay to players who injured opponents.
"This is an NFL image-enhancement bill," Batt said. "I'm not here to protect the NFL because they've gotten themselves into some kind of bind with bounty hunting. I don't think the NFL's concern is the small schools out in our rural areas."
The NFL said it's been working to pass similar legislation across the country since 2010 — long before it publicized the Saints' bounties this month following its own investigation.
"We are proud that 31 states now have similar laws to protect youth athletes," said Jeff Miller, the NFL's top lobbyist in Washington, D.C. "The vote today marks a significant victory for youth athletes in Idaho."